I’ve been a lazy cook lately. Granted, it’s hot outside and there are pools to jump in. I’ve basically been living on blueberry crisp for breakfast, salads and leftovers. This salad is precisely what I’ve been craving. It’s wholesome and filling, with plenty of fresh greens and bursts of flavor in the form of toasted almonds, salty feta and dried tart cherries.
Wild rice forms the backbone of the dish—did you know that it’s not really rice? It’s related to rice, but it’s a different member of the grass family. Wild rice is high in protein and B vitamins and has a fantastic chewy texture and nutty flavor. I don’t know why I don’t cook with it more often.
I also have some fun tart cherry facts to share, if you’re game for them. I attended a tart cherry harvest trip in Michigan last week, under no obligation to share on my blog, but it seems silly not to share some interesting details while we’re on the subject.
For starters, it’s almost impossible to buy fresh tart cherries outside of where they are harvested (which is mostly in Michigan) because they’re more delicate than sweet cherries, like Bing cherries. Tart cherries are usually sent straight from the fields to processing plants, where they are flash frozen, dried, juiced or packed into cans for pie filling.
Dried cherries come in unsweetened and sweetened form, but even the sweetened variety has less sugar in it than unsweetened dried cranberries and raisins. The sweetener mostly serves to help the cherry retain some moisture. Good to know, right?
Tart cherries are one of the few foods out there that contain naturally occurring melatonin, so they can help you sleep better. Cherry juice is like a whole foods Gatorade—athletes drink it to reduce soreness and speed recovery after workouts. Tart cherries are packed with anthocyanins, which help reduce inflammation in the body. All that and they’re mega tasty, too.
Ok, class dismissed. (You can learn more here, if you’re interested.) It’s salad time!
- 1 cup wild rice, rinsed
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- 4 cups arugula
- ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
- ½ cup dried sour cherries or cranberries, chopped
- ⅓ cup crumbled feta
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon, juiced)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
- 1 medium clove garlic, pressed or crushed
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- To cook the wild rice, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the rinsed rice and continue boiling, reducing heat as necessary to prevent overflow, for 35 minutes to 45 minutes, until the rice is pleasantly tender but still offers a light resistance to the bite. Remove from heat, drain the rice and return the rice to pot. Cover and let the rice rest for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and let the rice cool.
- To toast the almonds, warm one teaspoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the almonds and a pinch of salt and cook until they’re turning lightly golden and fragrant, about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until emulsified.
- To assemble the salad, transfer the cooled rice to a large bowl. Add the arugula, chopped basil, almonds, sour cherries and feta. Pour in the dressing, toss well and season to taste with additional salt and pepper (be sure to add enough salt so that the flavors really sing!). Set the salad aside for 10 minutes before serving, to give the rice time to soak up some of the dressing.
Make it vegan: Skip the feta cheese and substitute maple syrup or agave nectar for the honey.
Storage suggestions: This salad keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for two to three days. You might need to wake up leftovers with an extra drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon (the rice absorbs the dressing over time).